Veterinarian and educator Joseph Wakshlag has found success using CBD for a variety of health conditions in canines. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wakshlag
NEW YORK, June 24 (UPI) -- Dog owners give their furry companions CBD-based products to treat everything from anxiety to arthritis, but just like with humans, benefits of the compound for canines remain unproven, experts told UPI.
Even so, cannabidiol, or CBD for short, can be found in dog food and treats, as well as in topical oils and oral supplements intended to treat a variety of health conditions, according to several veterinarians and pet owners.
Perhaps as a result, about half of U.S. dog owners surveyed by Leafreport, a CBD research organization based in Israel, have tried these products, with 44% giving it to their pets to treat anxiety and 21% using it to treat pain.
Nearly eight of 10 dog owners who administered CBD to their dogs did so after veterinarians recommended it, the survey found.
Still, most veterinarians or specialists advise against using these products because, with little regulation governing them, their exact ingredients often are unclear, according to industry experts and pet owners.
"I've had multiple people tell me CBD has been great for their dog, but I haven't seen the data that shows exactly what it does and how it works," David Harmon, a professor of animal and food sciences at the University of Kentucky, told UPI in a phone interview.
The CBD market is "definitely way ahead of the science" supporting its use, said Harmon, who has researched how treats containing CBD affect dog behavior.
CBD is found in marijuana and hemp plants. Hemp CBD products are legal in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. In all but three states, marijuana CBD is legal, according to Michigan State University.
CBD does not contain THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that gives marijuana its intoxicating effect, or "high."
In humans, CBD is used to treat anxiety, pain and sleep problems, but, while it is recommended by some doctors, studies to assess its benefits have yielded mixed results, said Joseph Wakshlag, a professor of veterinary medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
There is more robust evidence -- from about 10 studies -- that the compound can help dogs with pain from osteoarthritis, seizure disorders and skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, an allergic reaction that causes dry, itchy skin, he said.
"Dogs in our study definitely scratched less," said Harmon, whose group investigated the effectiveness of CBD treats in dogs with the problem.
Exactly how it works to treat these conditions remains unclear, although it appears that CBD blocks some of the processes in the brain and immune system that cause inflammation, research suggests.
In addition, its ability to reduce anxiety and make dogs that take it feel more relaxed helps with conditions such as atopic dermatitis, Harmon said.
As in people with the condition, the itchiness caused by atopic dermatitis often is a source of anxiety in dogs, he and his colleagues said.
Jeremy Willis, who has two dogs and runs the pet site peteducate.com, has used topical oils and oral supplements that contain CBD for his dogs -- to treat anxiety in one and seizures in the other.
"The CBD products have worked particularly well," said Willis, who lives in Meridian, Idaho.
"We have been able to calm down Jesse, and with Bruce, we have almost completely eliminated his seizures -- he has not experienced one in over a year," he said.
Its anti-inflammatory properties also appear to help with conditions such as osteoarthritis, which causes joint pain in dogs and people.
Jerome G. Enad, a physician in Pensacola, Fla., began last year to treat his 8-year-old American Staffordshire terrier who has hip osteoarthritis with a combination pill that contains CBD and glucosamine, a natural compound found in cartilage that often is used to treat joint pain.
The pill, which he gives to his dog twice a day, contains 18 milligrams of hemp, of which 10 mg is CBD, as well as 230 mg of omega-3 fish oil and 100 mg of glucosamine, Enad said in an email.
It has "dramatically improved his mobility and [has] our dog walking and doing zoomies in the yard again," he said.
Conversely, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug prescribed by his veterinarian did not work, which led him to explore CBD on his own, he said.
A 2017 survey of more than 2,000 veterinarians in the United States found that nearly two-thirds never discussed CBD-based treatments with their clients, while about 20% rarely did, with most indicating a preference for prescription medications backed by clinical research.
"CBD is not a treatment recommended by most veterinarians or specialists and administering the treatment to your dog is solely on you," dog owner Claire Grayson told UPI in an email.
Grayson, who lives in Denver, used topical oils containing CBD for her dog to treat pain caused by arthritis and found they worked, although her veterinarian did not sanction the approach.
Risk said to be low
Although many in the veterinary profession debate the benefits of CBD-based therapies, the risk associated with their use remains low, experts said.
The most common side effects linked with CBD in dogs include dry mouth, lowered blood pressure, lethargy, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, inhibited liver enzymes and upset stomach, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
However, in the clinical trials published on CBD use in dogs, these side effects occurred in fewer than 5% of animals studied, and in some cases well under 1%, the University of Kentucky's Harmon said.
"We saw absolutely nothing negative, nothing health-wise, no adverse effects," he said.
This is because most products containing CBD targeted for use in dogs contain relatively small amounts of the compound, Harmon said.
In the four studies conducted by Harmon and his colleagues, the treats used contained either 2.5 mg or 5 mg of CBD per kilogram of bodyweight, he said.
Proponents of therapeutic CBD in animals, such as Cornell University's Wakshlag, said higher doses of the compound could produce more positive benefits.
However, higher doses also could make side effects and "toxicity" more common, Harmon argued.
In an August 2020 report, the American Veterinary Medical Association said "there is an urgent need for accurate and precise analysis of CBD products," particularly studies that assess their long-term effects on pets' health, including potential side effects.
Little regulation exists regarding labeling for products containing CBD, and listing the exact amounts of the ingredient in foods and treats often varies, according to the American Kennel Club, which promotes the sport of purebred dogs.
In their analysis of 27 CBD-based products intended for use in animals, Wakshlag and his colleagues found that only 10 contained levels of the compound within 10% of the amounts listed on their labels.
In addition, four of the products analyzed had potentially dangerous levels of "heavy metal contamination," with lead, mercury or other toxic substances, they said.
For this reason, when choosing a CBD product, pet owners should research its ingredients to make sure that it is safe, experts said.
"Some dogs are sensitive to it and can get diarrhea, and some dog's livers will elevate an enzyme, but there is no evidence of liver toxicity from the dosages that are usually given," Robert J. Silver, a veterinarian who recommends CBD and has developed his own product, told UPI in an email.
Still, "product selection is important as there is no overriding regulation of CBD manufacturing and analysis," said Silver, who practices in the Denver area and is the founder and medical director for Well-Pet Dispensary.
For dog owners interested in trying CBD on their pets, Silver, who recommends several other natural and holistic remedies, as well, advises that they ask the manufacturer to provide a "certificate of analysis" that documents potency and ingredient content.
This certificate also should state that the products have been analyzed for, and are free of, heavy metals and other toxins, he said.
Ideally, dog owners should work with veterinarians who have expertise in CBD. They can help with dosing and other issues, although this can be challenging given that so few recommend it, Silver said.
If dog owners decide to experiment on their own -- which Harmon strongly cautions against -- they should start with a low dose, give it twice daily with some food and wait for 10 to 14 days to decide if that lower dose is working, without side effects, before increasing the dosage, Silver advised.
"Talk to your vet about what products have any clinical science behind them and what dose to start with," Wakshlag said. "Each dog metabolizes cannabinoids differently, which leads to very different concentrations in the body."